Annika Northrop and her teammates surrounded by Ladyville Primary School students in Belize during a gymnastics show. Northrop said that for her, it has been a tremendous blessing to be able to use the talents that God gave to bring inspiration, encouragement, and joy to others. Photo: Scott Spicer, Southern Tidings

Gymnastics has cartwheeled through Annika Northrop’s life for as long as she can remember. She started lessons at age three and began competing individually at six. At Highland Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Portland, Tennessee, United States, gymnastics became a team sport for her. Then, when she moved to Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, it also became a ministry.

Northrop got her first taste of witnessing on a ShareHim mission trip to Kenya at age 13, where she timidly preached a sermon to more than 300 strangers. She loved it and wanted more.

Gymnastics as Witnessing

When Northrop found out that she could combine witnessing with gymnastics in the Gym-Masters program at Southern, she was ecstatic. First, the team builds its members up through daily worships, which helps them stay focused on what is really important and feel like a big family. Second, they try to live out each year’s theme through their own lives. The Gym-Masters theme in 2019 is “Grow.” With every performance and with every younger team that they mentor, they encourage others to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,”  as the apostle Peter puts it (see 2 Peter 3:18).

Northrop’s favorite part of Gym-Masters is that the team takes mission trips together during Spring Break in March each year. She has been on three trips with the team, one to Puerto Rico, one to the Dominican Republic, and one to Belize. Different destinations involve different activities, ranging from gymnastics shows to church services and construction work.

Members of the Gym-Masters team from Southern Adventist University work at the job site in Ladyville, Belize. Photo: Scott Spicer, Southern Tidings

Trip to Belize

Belize was Northrop’s favorite trip. The theme that year was “Dig Deep — Lay the Foundation,” so it was very fitting that during their 10 days in Belize, the team helped lay the foundation for a new school.

“We spent the majority of the time scorched by the sun, our backs bent and shovels in our hands. We soon realized that we had been saying the words ‘Dig Deep’ all year long without factually understanding them,” Northrop remembers. “In the act of laying a foundation, we began to truly ponder what our theme meant — literally, and in our own lives. The words came to life for us.”

Students weren’t scheduled to go back to the job site on the last day, but Northrop and some of her friends wanted to help all they could, so they returned. The foreman was surprised and delighted. They also performed two gymnastics shows that week for local children. The team didn’t have thick pads for landing protection, so they had to keep the shows simple. Still, Northrop has never seen a crowd go so wild or be so grateful.

“I hope I can always use gymnastics to touch the lives of others, whether I am performing myself or teaching,” said Northrop, now a senior English and accounting double major. “Gymnastics has been such a big part of my life for so long that I honestly cannot picture my life without it. It has been a tremendous blessing to be able to use the talents that God gave me to bring inspiration, encouragement, and joy to others.”

The original version of this story was posted on the Southern Tidingsnews site.

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